On World Wetlands Day, let's hear it for the mallards

We often forget the ducks.

On World Wetlands Day, when we ought to be celebrating our wetlands, it may be good to spare a thought for the ducks who often die in them, well before their time.

The pheasant and red-partridge shooting season has just ended, so if like me you like animals and don't want them to suffer, you will feel relief that you now no longer have to hear the distant shots of people out there who like to kill for fun.

But if you know a bit about the shooting industry because you support organisations like the League Against Cruel Sports, you will know that the suffering of pheasants and partridges is not confined to the time they are shot. Most of them began life as chicks in other countries. They are then removed from their parents and transported long distances to a life of captivity in appalling cramped conditions. They finally end up being released in the countryside where a few days later they will be wounded or killed by a shooter, who pays for the privilege of becoming an executioner for a day.  And those who miraculously survive the bird massacre may find themselves injured and unable to cope with a life in the wild - which is totally alien to them after being intensively reared in such conditions that even the most unscrupulous battery hen farmers would not inflict on their feathered prisoners.

But even if you are well versed on the evils of the commercial driven shooting industry I bet you have probably never put the mallard, the most common duck in the UK, as one of their common victims. Wildfowling or Waterfowl shooting is the term used to describe the shooting of birds in wetlands and similar water environments, and perhaps because we use another term, we may not associate it with the shooting industry. Some may think that solitary wildfowlers go to wetlands -hence talking about all this today - just to kill one or two ducks not for sport, but "for the pot". Surely they cannot be compared with the pheasant, red-partridge, and red-grouse shooters who stand in groups waiting for hundreds of birds to be driven to them by the "beaters"? Compared with these, the lone water fowlers who just wait to see if a couple of naive birds are attracted to their simulated calls may be seen by some as more "forgivable". But I don't think they are.

The League Against Cruel Sports is opposed to the shooting of animals for sport, based both on a moral objection to killing for sport and also because of the unnecessary suffering that is caused by sport shooting. These problems are particularly notable in (but are not restricted to) the commercial shooting industry. However, is shooting ducks and geese part of such industry?  

Mallards, like pheasants, are now also bred in captivity for the purpose of shooting, and are also released so those who pay enough can shoot them for pleasure. How many captive-bred mallards are part of the shooting industry? I don't know, and I don't know anyone who knows. What I do know is that the industry claimed in 2013, that it kills at least 20 million birds per year, and although 83 per cent of these are pheasants and partridges, one million of these are ducks and more than 100,000 are geese. We know that mallards are the most prolific and heavily shot duck species in the UK, but how many of these ducks are captive-bred mallards, is not clear. Using a Freedom of Information Act request I asked the Government if they knew, but they replied that they don't. But if you search the internet for captive-bred mallards to shoot in the UK, you will find several companies that will provide that service to you.

But it is not only mallards and other waterfowl who are victims of the shooting industry in our wetlands. Everyone else living there are also victims, because the poisonous lead of the wildfowlers' ammunition is spread through the water every time a shot is fired, ending up contaminating other creatures. This is why lead ammunition has been made illegal in England and Wales for wildfowling, and for all shooting on or over wetlands (including foreshore) in Scotland and Northern Ireland. But who knows how much lead remains in wetland habitats from before the ban?

Yes, the pheasant and partridge shooting season has now ended, but if you are a mallard that happens to be below the high-water mark of ordinary spring tides, you can still be shot for 20 more days.

So, let's spare a thought for the poor mallard and its charming quacking companions this World Wetlands Day, because many people, including me, have forgotten them for far too long.

Here's to the mallard, the forgotten victim of the shooting industry.

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